Based on the latest census estimates, roughly 20 percent of Georgians live in hard-to-count neighborhoods. That's no anomaly. The Census bureau said it missed more than 1.5 million minorities in 2010 despite an intense outreach effort that pushed the total cost of the tally to $15 billion.
The stakes are high: The data collected from the once-a-decade count of every person living in the U.S. will determine each state’s share of representatives in Congress and nearly $900 billion in federal funding for healthcare, education and other public services.
Over a 90-minute discussion, the group talked different strategies to engage black men and ensure they respond to Census workers. Their concerns echo many of the same problems voiced by members of Latino and Asian-American communities, where mistrust of the government influences the count.
“Black men opt out,” said former Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. “They don’t want to be counted by the government because they don’t want the government walking to their door, because maybe in the past they had negative interactions with the criminal justice system. There’s active exclusion, but there’s also active avoidance.”
Organizers encouraged local leaders to leverage their social networks and work on their persuasion skills. Part of the conversation focused on the central role that black churches could play in encouraging community members to participate in the Census.
“If we miss the opportunity to be counted, it’s our children who will suffer,” said the Rev. Willie “Bo” Barber, a prominent leader of the state’s AME clergy.
“We will be an information machine. We will not allow the narrative to be shaped for us. We will shape it.”